The Institute for Sustainable Futures offers an award winning postgraduate program for Masters and PhD students.
We're tackling some of the most complex sustainability challenges facing our world, and this calls for innovative approaches. We take a holistic view that looks not just to technological solutions, but also the political, socio-cultural, organisational and individual factors that contribute to real change.
We welcome applications from students conducting research within the field of food futures. For more information about ISF's postgraduate program, click here.
Potential food-related PhD projects leveraging ISFs research capital (and interest) in peri-urban agriculture, diets, and phosphorus are listed below.
1. TRANSFORMING SYDNEY’S FOOD SYSTEM AND FOODSCAPES
Like many of the world’s peri-urban areas, Sydney’s food system is at best incomplete and ad hoc. Rapid population growth and the need for infrastructure is replacing agriculture with residential development, exacerbated by urban planning mechanisms that don't value or prioritise agriculture as a land use. Yet growing food in and around cities is vital for the resilience of a city: improving food security, climate resilience, wildlife corridors, urban cooling, local employment, recycling urban organic waste (see Sydney’s Food Futures).
Doctoral research building from the Sydney’s Food Futures project can address these pertinent challenges using a range of transdisciplinary approaches, including quantitative modelling & geospatial mapping and qualitative social-political lenses exploring the role of politics, institutions, and civil society in Sydney’s food futures.
Possible research questions could include:
- How can peri-urban land use decisions effectively account for the multiple benefits of local food production, including security of food supply, urban amenity, biodiversity, employment, etc? How can the non-monetary benefits of peri-urban land be valued?
- What mix of local food production types (from rooftop gardens to commercial peri-urban farms) could best address the wide range of benefits sought from urban food systems (e.g. increasing consumer food literacy, reducing food miles, significant food supply, flood/water management, amenity and community benefits, climate resilience, wildlife corridors and urban cooling).
- How could community-supplied data and information (e.g. diets) help to ‘ground’ existing models of Sydney’s food production and consumption and, in turn, better inform local options for improving the sustainability of the urban food system in terms of healthy diets, land use, etc? What scope exists for local urban and peri-urban communities to engage in ‘live’ research, by means of supplying data and information about, for example, what they eat and where they buy their fresh food, and receive integrated (modelled) data in turn that would improve their immediate local ‘foodscapes’?
- How aligned or fragmented are the value systems of urban residents and peri-urban residents with respect to peri-urban agriculture? How can these value systems be better connected so as to create shared values that can trigger policy change?
2. THE ROLE OF SHIFTING DIETS FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE
Diets are a significant global driver of key sustainability challenges. The projected doubling of global consumption of meat and dairy products will have significant impacts in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, water, energy, land and fertiliser use, biodiversity, public health and animal welfare. Yet the public discourse on shifting diets to mitigate climate change and other sustainability risks can be hindered or influenced by political, socio-cultural and psychological perspectives. Doctoral research can address these challenges using a range of transdisciplinary approaches, including modelling and social-political lenses.
Possible research questions include:
- How can shifting diets achieve multiple benefits across a number of sustainability impact domains: reducing GHGs, energy consumption, water/phosphorus scarcity, public health, animal welfare?
- How can policy change be better informed by modelling scenarios and impact of different interventions – e.g. incentives, consumer education campaigns, migration, cultural shifts, nudging, etc.
3. ADAPTING AUSTRALIA’S FOOD SYSTEM IN THE FACE OF GLOBAL PHOSPHORUS VULNERABILITY
Without phosphorus, we cannot produce food. The emerging challenge of global phosphorus scarcity has the potential to destabilise the world’s food systems if not addressed. The world’s main source of phosphorus for fertilisers is non-renewable, becoming increasingly scarce, and controlled by very few countries – Morocco alone controls 75% of the world’s remaining high-quality phosphate. Yet there are wide-ranging opportunities to sustainably adapt to phosphorus scarcity, many of which are consistent with adapting to climate change and water scarcity – such as more efficient agricultural practices, changing diets or recycling food waste, wastewater and other organic waste.
While policy change and technology adoption are starting to occur in Europe and U.S due to an enabling environment, Australia is lagging behind. The Australian food system is vulnerable to phosphorus scarcity: Australia is the world’s 5th largest importer of phosphate with naturally phosphorus-deficient soils. Yet the country exports the majority of phosphorus in agricultural exports, limiting options for recycling phosphorus in food waste and human excreta.
Doctoral research will build from, a contribute to, the Institute’s vast work in this area globally (e.g. through the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative) and within Australia (as seen in Phase I and Phase II of the Australian Sustainable Phosphorus Futures report). Doctoral research can address these challenges using a range of transdisciplinary approaches, including modelling and social-political lenses.
Possible research questions include:
- How vulnerable is the Australian food system to global phosphorus scarcity?
- Where are the key risks and strategic policy levers to trigger transformational change? What are the barriers preventing change in Australia?